Mary “Mollie” E. Fly (1847-1925)
Inducted in 1989
Used by permission from the Arizona Historical Society
“She was a typical frontierswoman — didn’t know what fear was.”
Mary Edith Goodrich and Camillus Sidney Fly were married in San Francisco on September 28, 1879. The newlyweds shared not only a love of each other, but of adventure and photography as well. Thus, to indulge themselves, they moved to Arizona Territory. Arriving in Tombstone in December 1879, the Fly’s, “Mollie” and “Buck” as they preferred to be called, quickly set up a photographic studio in a tent. By July of 1880, they had built a twelve-room boarding house. The “Fly Gallery” as the studio was named, occupied the back of the building at 312 Fremont Street in Tombstone.
While her husband roamed the countryside in search of historic photographic opportunities, Mollie ran the boardinghouse and the studio. Although women photographers were extremely rare in the 1880s, Mollie snapped the pictures of anyone with the required price or thirty-five cents. The residents of Tombstone seem to have appreciated her talents. With the marital separation of the Fly’s in 1887, the Tombstone Epitaph wrote:
“Mr. C.S. Fly, the well known photographer, leaves today for Florence, Phoenix and other points in the Territory … During his absence, Mrs. Fly also an accomplished photographic artist, will conduct the gallery in this city as usual.”
Aside from the fact that Mollie Fly was a respected photographer, little is known about her personal life and what little is known is often contradictory. We do know from photographs and letters that Mollie was a small woman,”… about five feet of pure dignity, very plainly dressed, but in manner Queen Victoria had nothing on her,” wrote Coral Henry, a young girl who lived with the Flys after her parents died.
Researchers do not know if Mollie was Buck Fly’s first or second wife, nor is it known if Kitty Fly, a girl they adopted, was Buck’s child from a previous marriage, or a stranger. Although the Flys had been separated for several years when Buck became ill from years of alcohol abuse, Mollie was at his bedside when he died on October 12, 1901 in Bisbee. She continued to run the Tombstone gallery on her own and in 1905, she published a collection of her husband’s Indian campaign photographs. The primitive publication titled “Scenes in Geronimo’s Camp: The Apache Outlaw and Murderer”, contains many of Buck Fly’s famous photographs, including the only known photographs of Geronimo’s surrender.
Finally in 1912, Mollie decided to retire. Knowing the historic value of the work both she and Buck had done over the years, she donated the negatives to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. She then retired to a small home in Los Angeles where she died in 1925. Mollie Fly was a gentle woman in rough times, a quiet woman doing a man’s job in a pioneer environment – as usual.